Wouldn’t it be nice if people were open about their toxic traits?
Imagine starting a new job, and after your boss showed you around the office, they told you, “By the way, I avoid confrontation at all costs and will throw you under the bus to avoid it.”
Or what if you were on a third date with someone, and they told you confidently over a second glass of wine, “I know things seem good now, but I’ve been studying your social media to figure out how I can manipulate you later.”
Ah, if life was like that, it would be much easier to navigate! But unfortunately, the opposite is true—people usually go out of their way to conceal their toxic traits for as long as possible.
In life, you’re bound to come across your fair share of people with toxic traits. (In fact, you probably already know a few.) The faster you can identify toxic people traits, the easier it will be to distance yourself from those people—at least until they get their sh*t together.
In this article, I’ve broken down some of the most common toxic traits, and I’ve added some “toxic people quotes” to go along with every trait to further explain them.
Bear in mind, this is not a complete list of toxic traits—but they’re certainly the ones that can cause the most anguish and pain.
6 toxic people traits to watch out for
1. They’re super good at manipulation
Of all the toxic traits on this list, this one is probably the hardest to spot. That’s because manipulation is inherently sneaky—it can only occur when someone is trying to control or influence you without you knowing.
Manipulative people will lie, rage, cry, exaggerate, give backhanded compliments, play with your emotions, and use any other trick in the book to get you to do what they want. The only thing they won’t do is be clear and direct about their intentions.
Manipulation is application of intelligence on people to achieve a premeditated outcome solely benefitting the former than latter.”
― Ramana Pemmaraju
When you’re dealing with a manipulative person, it’s common to feel confused, frustrated, or baffled by your own actions. Their manipulative tactics may even cause you to do things that are totally out of the norm for yourself, like get incredibly angry or start doing sneaky things yourself.
Management is the set of skills that can help get things done. Unfortunately, its practice is too often a bag of manipulative tricks to advance someone’s own interests, which creates cynicism.
― Frances Hesselbein
The best way to avoid being manipulated is to be reflective of your own actions. When you’re feeling confused or frustrated about something, ask yourself: Am I doing this because I want/need to, or because someone else said or did something that made me want to do it?
There are those whose primary ability is to spin wheels of manipulation. It is their second skin and without these spinning wheels, they simply do not know how to function. They are like toys on wheels of manipulation and control. If you remove one of the wheels, they’ll never be able to feel secure, be whole.
― C. JoyBell C.
2. Drama follows them everywhere
Have you ever met someone who claims that, despite their best efforts, they’re always caught up in drama? They may like to play it off as though it’s just the universe toying with them, but spoiler alert: If you constantly find yourself surrounded by drama, chances are you are the one causing it.
Drama starts where logic ends.
Of course, everyone likes a bit of excitement in life, and it’s no crime to indulge in gossip or wildness every once in a while. It’s also true that you’ll sometimes encounter drama without meaning to—anything from a relationship ending to an adventure overseas can lead to normal amounts of drama.
But people who are constantly seeking or causing drama—whether they admit to it or not—are likely doing so to compensate for something else. Perhaps they feel inadequate and want their life to be more exciting, or they’re trying to distract people in their orbit from their other toxic traits.
People who are not happy with their lives will often try to start drama in yours.
— Karen Salmansohn
One of the wonderful things about growing older is that the number of people who thrive on drama naturally diminishes. As people grow up, they realize life is better without excessive drama and stress. Until then, be wary of anyone who claims that drama follows them anywhere. Chances are, they carry it with them.
Some people create their own storms and then get mad when it rains.
3. They are hyper-focused on perfection
Usually, when we talk about toxic people traits, we’re talking about unsavory or even despicable behaviors. But here’s something I’ve learned—some of the most toxic traits actually seem like positive attributes until you do a bit of digging.
Perfectionism rarely begets perfection, or satisfaction—only disappointment.
— Ryan Holiday
One of the most common toxic traits that masquerade as a positive trait is perfectionism. In fact, it’s so common that I’ve written an entire article about the importance of valuing progress over perfection.
The phrase “toxic” implies that these negative traits affect other people, not just the person who has the toxic trait. So how does a person’s focus on perfection impact those in their orbit? It’s likely that their obsession with perfection will also apply to you and the things you do.
When you strive for perfection, you compare different versions of what could be instead of being present with what is. Perfectionism is an attempt to inhabit an imaginary world in order to avoid experiencing the world in which you live.
— Gary Zuvak
If you’re dating someone who is obsessed with perfectionism, they may get upset with you because you don’t dress the way they want, say the things they would like you to say, or do the dishes exactly how they like. A boss who has this toxic trait might rage if you have a single typo on a document or stumble over your words slightly during a presentation.
In other words, a person who has a toxic relationship with perfectionism is likely to drag you down with them.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.
4. They think the world owes them something
I have some bad news.
Life isn’t fair.
Bad things happen to good people.
I’m not trying to make you depressed or jaded. But these two simple facts are unavoidable, and part of growing up is learning to accept these facts and move on with life anyway.
Some toxic people, however, just aren’t able to come to terms with the idea that life sometimes doesn’t go how we want. They believe that they are owed something by the universe—and when things don’t work out, they are unable to take accountability for any role they might have played in it.
The world doesn’t owe you anything. You have to work for everything you get, and you have to appreciate every bit of success the world gives you.
— Taylor Swift
When things don’t go as planned, it’s all right to feel frustrated and hurt for a while. But eventually, you must accept that either it’s out of your control, or there is a lesson to be learned. This can take time (and therapy), but some toxic people just aren’t willing to go there at all.
Take accountability… Blame is the water in which many dreams and relationships drown.
― Steve Maraboli
When people refuse to examine the true reason why bad things happen, they also avoid taking any accountability for their own actions and behaviors. So look for signs of this toxic trait—if someone is frequently complaining about how life isn’t fair for them, it may be time to start distancing yourself.
Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions.
—John Di Lemme
5. They mostly think about themselves
Of everything on this list, this may be the easiest toxic trait to spot. Self-centered people flash the signs of a toxic person like a neon light.
It’s true that everyone can have self-centered tendencies. Because you can only truly experience the world through your own body and mind, it’s natural that you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about yourself.
The toxic part of this trait, however, comes when someone is unable to think of others much at all. This lack of empathy means they are unable to form deep connections and will do almost anything to avoid having to do something for someone else.
You will never find a truly happy self-centered person. They simply don’t exist.
— Zig Ziglar
When you interact with a self-centered person, you’ll quickly find that they take more than they give. For example, you may go on a date with someone and learn everything about their life, while they walk away without finding out what you do for a living. Or you may have a friend who always wants to hang out when you suggest it, but rarely makes the effort to invite you anywhere.
The results are the same—after spending time with a person who has this toxic trait, you feel unsatisfied and disrespected.
The most unhappy people in the world are the ones who live only for themselves. All that they do, they do only for their own sake. For these self-centered individuals, the most precious thing in the world is their ‘self.’ Like a cancer that eats and destroys its own cells, the self-centered individual is slowly dying inwardly.
— K.P. Yohannan
Don’t get it twisted—caring about yourself is vital to happiness and success in life. It just needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of empathy. And if your empathy goes too far, you could be at risk of developing a different toxic trait. One that’s much harder to notice, especially in yourself…
I am a recovering narcissist. I thought narcissism was about self-love until someone told me there is a flip side to it. It is actually drearier than self-love; it is unrequited self-love.
— Emily Levine
6. They are obsessed with people pleasing
For the last toxic trait on the list, let’s look at another one that often presents itself as something positive. People who are focused too intensely on pleasing others can easily veer into toxicity because their inability to put themselves first when necessary prevents them from being authentic or truly happy.
An obsession with pleasing others is often rooted in a lack of love for oneself. In other words, this toxic trait, like most of the others on this list, has to do with deep-seated insecurity. When someone makes a habit of always pleasing others, they are likely doing it because they are worried about what others think of them.
People-pleasers feel they must constantly be performing acts of service to others to gain acceptance. That requires a lot of work, effort, and energy.
― Eddie Capparucci
Of course, doing things for other people is part of having healthy relationships. There’s nothing wrong with planning a birthday party for a beloved friend, or agreeing to attend a concert with your partner (even if you aren’t crazy about the musician on stage).
The danger with this toxic trait comes when you say yes to others, even when it impacts your quality of life and happiness. Despite your efforts, this may cause you to feel resentful, and when we feel resentful, we can’t be truly caring people.
When you say yes to others, make sure you aren’t saying no to yourself.
There’s no avoiding toxic people in life. The best we can do is be on the lookout for toxic people, and distance ourselves when possible. Find ways to love and respect yourself, and you’ll avoid taking on any of these toxic traits as part of your own personality.